On leaving Marrakech we travelled for a day over the Atlas mountains south east and arrived in El Kelaa Des Mgouna, the gateway to the valley of the roses. We passed through our original WWOOF hosts town as we’d heard nothing from them to confirm our arrival.
Part of my third diploma project involves Nina and I having a monthly travel check-in with each other to establish whether both of our needs and expectations are being met. When we went through our list it was obvious that our journey so far was missing some vital elements – time in nature, live and loud music, being effective, exercise, some meaning and more learning and celebration. We decided from that to head into the valley and see what we could find…
An hours minibus ride brought us to the beautiful hamlet of Bouthrarar, a collection of tiny villages on the banks of two converging rivers. It was obvious on arrival that the locals were making good use of the available water as there were lush green fields of broad beans, lucern, wheat and clovers. Surrounding each small plot were fig, walnut, almond, peach and olive trees. The hedgerows are all made up of roses, hence the name of the valleys. They are harvested in May and made into various products like rose water and soap.
On closer inspection we found that the abundance in the valley was down to careful use of water and the ingenious irrigation system not dissimilar to those in Ladakh. Small sections are diverted away from the river upstream and held high by hand built channels. By the time they reach the next village they are way above the crops in need and can be carefully directed downwards using more channels and small sluices which are opened and closed by rocks or soil. The excess water then rejoins the river below. A great design for catching and storing energy, using minimum effort for maximum effect.
On our first evening in the valley we asked our host if there was any chance we could see some of the local building techniques in action. Our hopes of exercise, learning, meaning and community were answered in a flash when we were offered the opportunity to join the local building team the next day. It turns out that our host Youssef is in contact with Unesco to have the valley recognised for it’s local traditions including the building practice which they call Tabout. We jumped at the chance and spent the following week completely immersed in Berber life.
The technique involves constructing a wooden frame, ramming earth into it and then moving the frame on to the next section whilst the previous one is being rendered. The team made it look easy but Nina and I found it pretty hard work, carrying baskets of soil on our heads up ladders and ramming earth into the frames with a heavy tool made from walnut. I think we surprised them with our enthusiasm and I don’t think they expected us to show up for more hard graft the next day.
As the week progressed we were not only fatigued by work but also by the amazing hospitality that we enjoyed. Being part of the team also seemed to earn us the privilege of being part of the family and we were welcomed into each and every home for the remainder of our time in the valley. Brahim, Moha, Abd Hamane, Said, Mohammed and their families were by far the most hospitable people I have ever come across. Each night after work, and all the following week, we ate with them, sang with them, danced with them and enjoyed the type of days off they would only normally spend with their families.
It was always midnight or later before the evening festivities of song and homemade fig liquor had finished and Abdul or Youssef would insist on walking us home. On day ten we managed to break away from the village and enjoy a neighbouring hamlet, of course joined by one of the team who wanted to make sure we had a fulfilling experience and were safe. From the nearby village of Almdoune, and after being taken to another families home for tea, we set off on a walk to take in one of the many gorges of the valleys. A spectacular trek that took in not only a beautiful gorge but more picturesque villages and a magnificent kasbah too.
It was late when we arrived back to Abdul’s house and there he and his wife Sadia insisted on dressing us up Berber style for a final ho down over at Brahim’s house. We shared family photo’s and exchanged gifts and seeds before some emotional good byes and hopes of seeing each other again some day…Inshaalah
There was no way possible to summarise in a blog what an amazing two weeks we have had with the tabout team but I have made a small documentary which will be here on the website when we come across a better connection for uploading.
Read more about our journey and see more pictures at Nina’s blog typotraveller